Tackling Subplots

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Subplots can be tricky business, but when gone about correctly can make your story a thousand times better. This is a little guide to knowing when, how, and what types of subplots to include in your story. Enjoy!


Purpose

a subplot in a story should always serve a purpose. Subplots are not a device you use to bulk up the word count. They can be super helpful with progressing toward the main resolution, and can greatly improve your reader’s experience.

Connect To The Main Plot

You subplot(s) need to connect to the main plot in some way. I needs to push the story forward and somehow add to the resolution of the main conflict.

Reveal Information That Is Imperative To The Plot

Your subplots must serve to reveal information that is important to the main plot’s resolution. Whether it be revealed to the reader, to a character, or both, it needs to happen at one point or at multiple points throughout the subplot’s timeline.

Keep The Reader Interested

If your subplot is boring and only serves to give information, it may drive the reader away. Even though it isn’t the main plot, you still spend a considerable time with this plot, and it needs to be interesting to your reader. Subplots add to the main plot as well as the reader’s experience, so try to manipulate the subplot to keep your readers on their toes.

The Subplot Must Be Resolved

Finally, the subplot has to be resolved at some point in the story. Not necessarily in time with the main conflict resolution, because some subplots continue in sequels of stories, but if your story is a standalone, then it needs to be resolved before or at the same time as the main conflict.

When To Use A Subplot

Some subplots begin to appear very early in stories and some don’t appear to the reader until the very end. Subplots must flow with the main plot, and as you introduce characters, plot points, themes, goals, and conflicts, the subplots will appear and thicken. Don’t fool yourself into believing that subplots have to begin at the beginning and run the entire course of the story. Life isn’t like that, and oftentimes, stories aren’t either. Let subplots begin where they may and run their courses at their own paces.

How Many Subplots?

There is no expectation or limit to the amount of subplots you can include in your story. However, in reality, you should only include the amount of subplots you, as a writer, can handle. If you can gracefully weave 20 subplots into the main plot and come out with a product your readers will understand and appreciate, then do so as you please. Do what makes sense for you, your audience, and your story.

Weaving Them Into The Main Plot

Subplots within a main plot should follow the same format when it comes to characters. The supporting character(s)’s story should intertwine with that of the main character. There should be an element within the subplot that is essential to the pain plot moving forward and being resolved. One of the most effective ways of weaving a subplot into the main plot is to create alternate sections or chapters in which the perspective changes to that of a supporting character and focuses on the subplot. Your subplots will seem to run parallel to the main plot but at various times, they should cross over and impact each other.

What Not To Do

  • Include a subplot that does not serve a purpose
  • Include a subplot that is purely meant to make the story longer
  • Include subplots that you and/or your story can’t handle
  • Force the subplot into a time frame that does not fit its purpose
  • Allow the subplots to run parallel to the main plot their entire durations

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